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Asana: A Modern Way to Improve Teamwork

Asana: A Modern Way to Improve Teamwork
    Asana's Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, both of Facebook fame.

    Working as part of a team and staying connected while doing so is a challenge, and there have been few (if any) easy and reasonably-priced software solutions that handle it well. Until today.

    Asana has left beta and is now available to the general public. And it has a lot to offer.

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    This web application keeps teams in sync with what is essentially a shared task list. Here everyone can capture, organize, track, and communicate what they are working on, all with the bigger picture in mind. Skipping email conversations (which is a terrible way to have conversations anyway) and countless meetings to keep a team on track, Asana lets its users move more efficiently and effectively.

    Oh, and Asana is free for teams consisting of 30 people or less. In addition, Asana can be used with as many of these teams as you want.

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    How Asana Works

    By making the task the center of attention in Asana, the way teams look at productivity shifts. The tasks are basically smaller pieces of a much larger set of goals and get assigned to team members and tracked to completion within the web app. Asana allows users to:

    • Capture everything your team is planning and doing in one place. No more jumping from app to app. Everything is collected and lives in Asana.
    • Keep team members in the know. By seeing who is working on what and when, there is a distinction between what is and isn’t important as well as how much more work has to be done to reach the much larger goal.
    • Stay informed. You’ll get essential updates on progress without having to search through old email threads.

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      Why Choose Asana?

      While we’ve yet to put it through the paces here at Stepcase Lifehack — we’ll be doing so over the next 30 days — Asana itself has suggested the following:

      • “It’s ridiculously fast. Thanks to in-house “Luna” technology, Asana is as responsive and lightweight as a text editor. Plus, by obsessively minimizing the number of clicks required to get things done, along with powerful keyboard shortcuts, Asana lets you manage your most important information with ease.”
      • “It’s versatile. Asana is one tool for many uses – from simple to-do lists, to complex projects, and more. It doesn’t force a single workflow, so you can mold it to your own processes and style.”
      • “It’s for the individual, too. Asana is the place to organize your own task list. In doing so, you automatically communicate what you’re prioritizing and everything you’ve done. By being the tool that individuals are using day in and day out, the team as a whole can trust it as the source of truth. We think Asana becomes the best group productivity tool by also being the best personal productivity tool.”

      But don’t just take the company’s word for it. The video below offers the thoughts of some of the early beta testers:

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      Asana may be a new player on a crowded landscape, but with co-founders including Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and early Facebook employee Justin Rosenstein firmly behind it, this very well could be the web app that teams looking to improve their overall productivity have been searching for.

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      Mike Vardy

      A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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      Last Updated on August 20, 2019

      Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

      Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

      Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

      This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

      The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

      Curiosity

      Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

      People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

      Patience

      Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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      When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

      Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

      A Feeling for Connectedness

      This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

      A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

      The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

      With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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      1. Research

      Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

      Learning the Basics

      Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

      Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

      What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

      Hitting the Books

      Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

      Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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      Long-Term Reference

      While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

      My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

      2. Practice

      Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

      A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

      Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

      3. Network

      One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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      These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

      Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

      4. Schedule

      For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

      Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

      Final Thoughts

      In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

      If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

      At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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      Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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